Cross-Media Case Study: Another Brick in the Wall

Another Brick in the Wall

One newspaper has thrived through online subscriptions

A few sobering statistics: Newspaper ad sales dropped more than 28 percent for the first quarter of 2009, according to the Newspaper Association of America; more than 40,000 newspaper jobs were lost in 2009, figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal; and weekday newspaper sales fell by 10.62 percent from April 1, 2009 to September 30, 2009, while Sunday circulation dropped 7.49 percent for the same period, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reports. While there are no statistics available on this, we can only assume that newspaper delivery boys and girls across the country have lost their routes.

But the news wasn't entirely negative. The Wall Street Journal is bucking the trend, reports Paul Gillin, an author, speaker and social media consultant who runs the aptly, but rather depressingly, named "They've built a substantial and profitable online business, and there aren't many print publications that have done that. And they have managed to hold onto their circulation levels in print, which is pretty remarkable," Gillin says, adding, "I believe they are the only publisher that is not down significantly in circulation in the last two years."

The Journal, which had a total paid circulation of 2,024,069 as of September 2009, according to the Audit Bureau
of Circulations, actually saw its circulation rise slightly over the last two years, allowing it to take the title of America's highest total paid circulation newspaper from USA Today in 2009.

One reason? Online subscriptions are included in the Journal's overall U.S. circulation figure. Currently, more than 400,000 subscribers are paying to read the newspaper online, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reports, making it one of a small number of publications, including Consumer Reports, Cook's Illustrated and Advertising Age, that have successfully employed paywalls, Gillin says.

The secret to the Journal's thriving pay wall? It's pretty simple, according to Gillin, who says, "In the B2B market especially, there is a significant perceived professional or financial value in having access to the information the Journal provides."

Still, the venerable newspaper, founded in 1889, isn't taking anything for granted and recently launched a multimedia branding campaign created by New York's mcgarrybowen that invites people to "Live in the Know."

Know It All
The goal of the Live in the Know campaign is to show the general public that the Journal is more than a just-the-facts newspaper, according to mcgarrybowen executive creative director Jeff Watzman, who says, "If you want to read a paper, you read USA Today. But if you want to get information with more insight and depth and perspective, you read The Wall Street Journal."

To get the point across, Live in the Know print ads and television spots take people behind the headlines to show how the Journal might approach a story from multiple angles. For example, one of the print ads, which are running in Condé Nast and Time Inc. magazines among others, posits: When you factor in expenses, the average return on a real estate investment isn't much better than a good money-market fund. Is it time to rethink the American dream?

Meanwhile, one of the television spots, which are in rotation on NBC, National Geographic Channel and Golf Channel among other outlets, calls into question assumptions about electric cars being better for the environment, pointing out that coal-generated electricity accounts for the majority of American power, and coal is the biggest source of CO2 emissions. "The deeper the understanding, the more informed the decision," a voiceover intones.

In the digital realm, online banner ads running across The Wall Street Journal Digital Network and Condé Nast Digital sites, among others, provide an up-to-minute feed of the Journal's most-read stories and are customized so that someone who lives in, say, San Francisco will get news related to the Bay Area, or someone who is reading will have access to the most-read sports stories.

Additionally, electronic out-of-home is being employed in Times Square and throughout The Wall Street Journal Office Network to spread the Live in the Know message. "The campaign has the potential to be a great big world - as big as the client wants to make it, or as small as the client wants to make it," Watzman remarks. "We're always pushing big, of course."

Half the Battle
There are challenges in running a campaign that has news at its core. Jim Richardson, Dow Jones' vice president of brand and consumer insights, notes that one of the early print ads addressed swine flu, asking, "What if a million people called in sick at once?" Given that the swine flu never turned out to be a serious epidemic, the ad quickly became dated. "So at this point that ad isn't going to get any more play because, from a timing standpoint, it was played out," Richardson explains. "We continually look at each concept to make sure it is still relevant and timely, and, if not, we move on to the next concept."

While Live in the Know is aimed at professional and managerial types who are 35+ with a household income of $75K+, Richardson says the campaign is geared more specifically toward a psychographic made up of "people who have a thirst for news and understanding the underlying issues behind a topic. They don't want to just rely on sound bites."

There are plenty of people out there who are fed up with the sound bite culture and are open to hearing the Live in the Know message, in Gillin's estimation. "This is sort of an anti-Twitter campaign when you look at it," Gillin muses. "It's a response to the sound-bite culture that exists on the Internet, where everything is reduced to a headline, and they are trying to respond to that with a message that shows they produce a more thoughtful product."

Live in the Know is also designed to show people that the Journal covers much more than business news these days, Richardson adds. Under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch, who bought the Journal just over two years ago, the newspaper has indeed expanded its coverage of areas ranging from politics to health.

Self-described "journalism church lady" and media critic David Carr of The New York Times isn't impressed with the Journal's transition to a more general-interest publication. In a December column, Carr faulted The Wall Street Journal for becoming newsier and less analytical and adopting a more conservative tone.

Robert Thomson, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, struck back, issuing a statement insisting that Carr's assertions were "yet more evidence that The New York Times is uncomfortable about the rise of an increasingly successful rival while its own circulation and credibility are in retreat."

Journalists do so love to bicker.

For his part, Gillin says the expanded coverage marks the Journal's attempt to compete head-to-head with the Times for general interest and local market readers, and he credits the Journal for branching out without "dumbing itself down or simply knocking off the Times for the sake of circulation." That said, Gillin doesn't necessarily think the Live in the Know campaign promotes the Journal's expanded coverage as well as it could.

As for how Live in the Know could develop, Gillin says social media should be part of the media mix. "I don't know if I would set up social channels for a campaign like this, but I would try to reach into existing conversations and tap into the wellspring of frustration with the sound bite culture that's being expressed, not only by media bloggers but by anybody who is passionate about topics ranging from political issues to environmental issues. These are topics that require rigorous understanding but aren't getting thorough coverage," Gillin maintains, "and the people interested in these topics are open to a campaign like this."

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